The Petrash File: NatGas Task Force Report Released

(February 14, 2018) – In April 2017, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ (NARUC) then-President Robert Powelson and the panel’s executive committee established a new Presidential Natural Gas Access and Expansion Task Force. The task force was charged with developing best practices and recommendations regarding natural gas service for so-called underserved and unserved areas of the country including, but not limited to, rural communities.

The primary responsibility of the Task Force was to prepare an analytical report that:

  1. Studies current access, expansion and service extension policies for underserved and unserved areas.
  2. Examines the need for access and expansion including case studies and review of the barriers and obstacles to such access.
  3. Recommends potential mechanisms to address the benefits and opportunities for access and expansion and identifies alternative or unconventional approaches to reaching unserved and underserved areas; and
  4. Compiles a national best practices collection on natural gas access and expansion to underserved and unserved areas.
The National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) decided to invest a lot of time and effort to make each of the 12 task force members aware of its strong concerns regarding subsidized natural gas. As reported last fall, NPGA vice president and general counsel Jeff Petrash embarked on a mission to travel to meet personally with almost every member of the task force. “We felt it was best to go to them and set aside a time to meet. In some cases, I brought along other propane industry stakeholders from their immediate region. This was more impactful than just catching them in the hallway at a NARUC event,” Petrash said. “It was important to us that our strong opposition to subsidized natural gas be shared. In some cases, task force members may not have agreed with us, but in other cases they had not fully considered our point of view. Some of them said they used propane gas for their own personal home heating.”

The report of the Access and Expansion Task Force was released in November and Petrash felt he could claim partial success. “It was not an across-the-board endorsement of subsidized expansion,” he said. “They shared seven common approaches but did not recommend one over the other. They did refer to some subsidized expansion policies that we object to that are already in place in some states. They shared a lot of alternative means of expansion that are much more acceptable to us.”

The challenge of subsidized natural gas expansion will no doubt continue. Petrash noted he is now working on making a case against a proposed plan by AltaGas Ltd. of Canada, which is purchasing Washington Light Gas Holdings Inc. of Maryland for $6.4 billion. The plan opposed by NPGA is for the newly merged companies to provide $30 million to state agencies to encourage natural gas expansion. “That may not be rate payers directly funding the buildout of the natural gas pipelines for new customers, but we also strenuously oppose the government subsidizing natural gas expansion in any way,” he said. “NPGA and the fueloil dealers will be working hard to oppose this plan in Maryland.”  —Pat Thornton